October 14, 2014

Different Strokes: Writer argues that true dialogue between conservative and progressive Christians necessary

In North Carolina, the United Church of Christ has some serious views on how their religious freedoms are being violated. Marriage equality is sweeping the nation, but until recently, their state was protected by a marriage equality ban. And they were angry, angry enough to sue.

Why? Because they believed that the ban violated their freedom of religion, because they could not marry the same sex couples in their congregations.

It's a bit of a reversal from the attitude that we typically see, with very conservative Christian sects seeming to support politicians and legislation that has stalled marriage equality in many states. But it illustrates a key point: as much as those conservative evangelical types would like to argue that it is clear cut in the bible, the issue of homosexuality simply isn't. The bible gives rise to a wide variety of interpretations on the topic.

Recently, I ran across a column in The Elkhart Truth by Rick Preheim that addressed the necessity of dialogue between Christian sects to try to resolve the issue:

But it’s impossible to understand each other when earnest, sincere attempts to do are rebuffed. In my experience, it usually goes something like this: 
Me: Why is homosexuality wrong? 
Conservative Christian: Because the Bible says so. 
Me: But the Bible says a lot of things. Some we thankfully don’t literally apply, such as the Old Testament directive to stone disobedient children or Jesus Christ’s counsel to chop off a limb or pluck out an eye if we sin. Other biblical passages are, rightly or wrongly, dismissed by most, but not all, Christians, such as opposition to military participation, economic justice and short hair for women. 
That’s when, in my experience and my observations of others, any hope for productive dialogue evaporates. The conservative Christian inevitably responds in two ways. The first is circular reasoning; the reason the Bible’s references to same-sex relations demand our concentered attention is because they’re in the Bible. The second response is defensiveness, as if Christianity is dangerously undermined because I dared to ask the question. 
I’m incredibly baffled by this attitude, which is disappointing because I really want to know what conservative Christians think and why. I could familiarize myself with conservative scholarship regarding homosexuality, but I’m not directing my question at scholars. I’m instead trying to engage people more like me, people who are committed to the church but don’t necessarily have advanced theological education or fancy degrees. They are the majority of voters, letter-writers, online commenters, demonstrators and donors. They are the ones doing yeoman work for their cause, and I would like an answer from them. In fact, basic courtesy demands that I receive an answer.

 While I can see the benefits of dialogue among the various Christian sects on this topic--and I would love to see people come around to a position of true love, acceptance and tolerance!--I have to say that I think that marriage equality and LGBT+ rights are examples of issues that simply must be addressed from the secular perspective.

Governing from the secular perspective necessitates that we start off at the position that everyone is truly equal. Men, women, black, white, brown, purple, gay, straight, cis, trans, or whatever--we start from a position of equality.

The only differentiation should be made based on secular values. Does something actively harm the community or its members? I don't find anything in the above categories (or most categories) that falls into that area.

Governing from secular values means that minority beliefs are protected. It means that the most liberty is allowed for the greatest number of citizens. It means that we have a clear idea of what our nation should be--one that recognizes the rights of all people.

That's why we have to continue pushing for secular governance. It's simply what's best for all of us.

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